Last full-blooded Eyak dies at 89
Marie Smith Jones spoke native language fluently
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Marie Smith Jones, who worked to preserve her heritage as the last full-blooded member of Alaska's Eyak Tribe and the last fluent speaker of its native language, has died. She was 89.
Jones died in her sleep Monday at her home in Anchorage. She was found by a friend, said daughter Bernice Galloway, who lives in Albuquerque.
"To the best of our knowledge she was the last full-blooded Eyak alive," Galloway said Tuesday.
"She was a woman who faced incredible adversity in her life and overcame it. She was about as tenacious as you can get."
As the last fluent speaker, Jones worked to preserve the Eyak language, a branch of the Athabaskan Indian family of languages, said Michael Krauss, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who collaborated with her.
Jones helped Krauss compile an Eyak dictionary, and Jones, her sister and a cousin told him Eyak tales that were made into a book.
The Eyak ancestral homeland runs along 300 miles of the Gulf of Alaska from Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska east to the town of Yakutat. Jones was born in Cordova in 1918, and grew up on Eyak Lake, where her family had a homestead.
In 1948, Jones married William F. Smith, a White Oregon fisherman who met Jones while working his way up the coastline, Galloway said.
The couple had nine children, seven of whom are still alive. None of them learned Eyak because they grew up at a time when it was considered wrong to speak anything but English, Galloway said.